Bharatanatyam is a popular classical dance form in South India. Bharatanatyam performance involves carefully choreographed and well practiced combination of eye movements, expressions, hand gestures, steps and dance. Bharatnatyam typically involves intense and strong movements and is known to be a very beautifully showcased art of story telling.
As with many art forms, Bharatnatyam found patronage from the Mysuru Wodeyars who helped Mysuru Bharatanatyam evolve into distinct schools mainly so for the beauty of this dance form. Danseuse and Guru Jatti Thayyama and her successor, Padma Bhushan awardee K Venkatalakshamma are names to remember when reminiscing about the golden age of Mysuru Bharatanatyam.
Elements of Bharatanatyam:
- Bhava (Expressions): Bharatanatya performers need to master being able to perform various facial expressions as demanded by the song/story. Expressions of joy, surprise, anger, grief, love etc aid in communication of the message during performance.
- Hasthamudra (Hand gestures): Hand gestures and forming of different shapes by finger movements make an important part of Bharatanatya performance.
- Thala: Bharatanatyam performance is done in sync with some soulful Carnatic music. Thalas represent eight rhythmic intervals.
- Dance: Bharatanatya dance performance includes carefully choreographed and well rehearsed dance performance that utilizes all of stage space, showcasing tricky body maneuvers and dance steps that sync perfectly with music, facial expressions and hand gestures.
- Nataraja Statue: Most Bharatanatya dances are performed in front of Lord Nataraja statue. All performances begin with a prayer and initial steps marking respect to Lord Nataraja.
- Dress: Bharatanatya performers (females) wear silk saree, along with suitable ornaments, jewelry and metallic bells (gejje) on their wrist and ankles. The sarees are specially made and worn in a unique style so as to reveal creative patterns as dancers perform various moves. Male performers wear silk dhoti, shalya and minimum jewelry.
- Performers: Bharatanatyam is performed both by male and female artists. However, the majority of the artists are female. Young girls begin to learn Bharatanatyam from school days and gain adequate experience and confidence to perform on large stages after years of practice under expert Guru (coach)
- Solo/Group: Bharatanatyam may be performed both solo or in a small group
Where to witness Bharatanatyam:
Bharatanatya performances are regularly held at various cultural events, school/college festivals and competitions. Various dance schools organize performances of their students as well as ‘Rangapravesha’ (event marked to celebrate graduation of a trained dancer) events. Government sponsored events such as Hampi Utsava, Bengaluru Habba, Pattadakal Dance Festival often include Bharatanatyam performances. Check in local media or take help from your host/hotel staff to identify a nearby Bharatanatya performance you may visit.